Managing Intellectual Property in the Era of the Socially Responsible Organization

Kraft Heinz released a 70-page document outlining its first-ever corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan, according to the Chicago Tribune. The plan includes the promise to use only eggs from cage-free hens by 2025, representing a significant shift for corporations to make a stronger commitment to socially sustainable initiatives. In fact, “sustainable, responsible and impact investing” in the U.S. totaled $8.72 trillion in 2016, a 33 percent increase from 2014 according to the US SIF Foundation: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

This shift in spending is an indication that stakeholders now expect businesses to operate in ways that demonstrate their efforts to be good corporate citizens. Like Kraft Heinz, organizations should consider developing a strategy for corporate social responsibility. A CSR program consists of initiatives that support the three dimensions of economic, environmental and social responsibility. In particular, in the area of social responsibility organizations must integrate the respect for and protection of copyright and intellectual property into broader CSR initiatives.

Intellectual property and copyright compliance play an expanding role in CSR as well as broader governance, risk management and compliance strategies. Organizations need policies and processes to identify, capture, organize and protect their portfolio of intellectual property internally, such as copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets and related intangible assets with inherent value. It also includes — with growing awareness and focus —respect for and protection of intellectual property and copyrighted materials produced by others that fall within the corporation’s scope of responsibility.

The core social responsibility practices for managing intellectual property and copyright in the era of CSR are:

1. Understand your risk

An organization should conduct a regular assessment of its policies and controls to see how well they protect the copyrighted material and intellectual property of others — particularly how the company protects the rights of others who create and publish the materials used by the organization. This starts with understanding and creating an inventory of how copyrighted and protected information of all media types — print, electronic, images, motion pictures, music, and more — is used throughout the organization, and identifying areas of the organization at increased risk of noncompliance.

2. Monitor risk and business change

There is a constant cycle of change in employees, business partners, relationships and processes. There is also change in the copyrighted information being used within the organization at any given time. The organization must make sure it is current in understanding where and how copyrighted information is used and then take steps to keep employees and business partners up-to-date on the policies and protection of the company’s property, as well as the intellectual property of others.

3. Set the tone at the top

The critical message of the socially responsible organization, including respect for copyright and other intellectual property rights, must be communicated from and demonstrated by executives who follow the same rules as everyone else.

4. Keep policies and training current

Written policies that are inaccessible are meaningless. Organizations need active training programs to educate and develop a culture of respect and protection with respect to copyrighted information. This goes beyond messaging about compliance with the law, and extends to establishing a culture that behaves in a socially responsible way when using and sharing the information of others inside and outside of an organization.

5. Make someone accountable

Someone needs to be in charge. The socially responsible organization will see there is a role focused on keeping policies and controls current for the protection of copyright and intellectual property. This role serves as an advocate for developing such a culture and making sure policies are understood and training is completed.

6. Keep it consistent

Every organization needs ongoing assessment of intellectual property and copyright protection policies and controls to assess the state of compliance across the organization. This involves surveys, self-assessments and automated assessments for regular compliance risk and control monitoring. Success requires that risk assessments not only be done on a periodic basis, but also when there is significant business change that could impact compliance policies.

The sharing of information company-wide puts organizations at risk

A CSR plan is an opportunity to help reinforce an organization’s values and boundaries.

When related practices — including policies, training and controls — are not centrally defined, managed and communicated, organizations risk violating the copyright and intellectual property rights of others. The socially responsible organization understands this and ensures that the organization uses the property of others in a way that complies with the law and is respectful of copyright.

Still, the ability to share timely information is paramount for businesses striving to build and maintain a competitive edge. While technology has made it easy to find and use content, obtaining copyright permissions can be time-consuming and potentially expensive. An enterprise-wide annual copyright license which covers common uses of materials across the organization may be an effective solution to mitigate risk and increase efficiencies.

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Author: Stephen Garfield

Stephen Garfield joined CCC in 2005 and is the director of corporate account management. Stephen is responsible for the annual renewal of corporate licensing solutions, which today generate just over $150 million, as well as overseeing a strategic account management plan designed to help companies educate their employees on copyright law. 
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